Who did upset India’s applecart in Kashmir in 2008-16?
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Certainly for the first time, the Jammu and Kashmir government’s pre-Budget Economic Survey-2016 has attributed all deficits of growth and other liabilities to the “political strife” that, in a bold official admission, assumed a menacing dimension in the year 2008 and is continuing to be unceasing and intractable. Without comment on his millennial ideas of recovery in the last two — now three — Budgets, one has to appreciate the State’s failures on the developmental front and resource mobilisation admitted by Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu even as, to some, it sounds nothing more than a search for alibi.
Notwithstanding PDP’s passion for the green and the pen-and-inkpot election symbol left behind by the Hizbul Mujahideen’s chief Syed Salahuddin, I had never any confusion about Mufti Mohammad Sayeed being a die-hard Indian patriot and New Delhi’s most trusted politician in Jammu and Kashmir. “Would you also succeed Farooq Abdullah as Chairman of the Unified Headquarters and preside over the counter-insurgency operation of the Police and security forces?”, I asked Mufti at his first press conference as Chief Minister for which he flew to Srinagar in November 2002. “Yes, I will”, Mufti retorted, “without any hesitation, but ensure that there’s no human rights abuse”.
Next month, while we were walking together toward his helicopter after he addressed the PDP’s first post-victory show at Khannabal, Mufti slowed down and asked me: “What do the people say now?” Keeping with my style, I said: “Honestly speaking, many of them feel happy and relieved. But, quite a number of them have apprehensions that the militants would regroup and the separatists would find it easy to reclaim their base”. Allaying the impression, Mufti stopped and said: “I’ll soon wipe them out from the root. Their game is over”.
True to his word, and in total contrast to his soft-separatist rhetoric in statements and public meetings, Mufti wiped out the core of militancy in the next three years of his coalition rule. Almost all the top Hizbul Mujahideen commanders, who in the year 2000 had responded to an Indian initiative and met with Union Home Secretary Kamal Pandey at Nehru Guest House, were caught alive and killed.
Riyaz Rasool was captured in Soura outskirts and killed near Zainakote. ‘Operational chief’ Saiful Islam nee Engineer Zaman was captured in a bank manager’s house, in close vicinity of Mufti’s house in Nowgam, and later killed at midnight. Commander Masood Tantray was seized in Pampore and subsequently killed in a fake encounter. Majid Dar and Farooq Mirchal are believed to have been eliminated by their own organisation.
Even as it was for the first time that a Minister (Dr Ghulam Nabi Lone) was killed in a fidayeen-type attack inside his guarded house in the high security zone of Tulsibagh, normalcy had been restored to a great extent when Mufti cleared out for Ghulam Nabi Azad of Congress in November 2005.
It is no secret that Mufti did not quit until Congress made an announcement in New Delhi that Azad had been chosen as leader of the party’s MLAs. Entire month of October witnessed a flurry of activity from Srinagar to Delhi. A multitude of Mufti’s advocates pleaded for his continuance in chair “in the national interest” for the full term of six years with varied arguments. Retired IB and RAW chief A.S. Dulat, who also served as an advisor to Prime Minister Vajpayee, wrote an article in The Hindustan Times, while strongly favouring Mufti’s extension.
The anti-climax occurred hours after Mufti, having just returned from Uri alongwith Deputy Chief Minister Mangat Ram Sharma, told the journalist Pervez Bukhari that he would soon host an Iftar party for the media. It indicated Mufti’s over-confidence in his continuing as head of the PDP-Congress coalition government. The journalist at a crowded press conference at the Banquet Hall had asked Mufti if he was going to step down or continue at the end of his three-year term that day.
Sonia Gandhi’s decision of inducting Azad as the first Congress Chief Minister after Syed Mir Qasim’s resignation in 1975 was believed to be influenced by Rahul Gandhi. Politicians claimed that the National Conference top brass was also at work through Sachin Pilot, Rahul and others. Amid speculations that men of consequence in Congress, including Digvijay Singh, Ahmad Patel and M.L. Fotedar, were strongly in favour of Mufti’s continuance, even the senior most Pranab Mukherjee in Jammu had given unambiguous indications that Congress would go by the “national interest”, not the party interest.
The valley experienced two more years of peace as Azad began reviving the “developmental constituency” Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad had assiduously created for 10 years and finally abandoned with his resignation as ‘Prime Minister’ under the Kamarj Plan in October 1963. Until June 2007, the militancy was at its lowest ebb. There was no stone pelting, separatist-sponsored shutdown or a major demonstration. Peace and development had decisively neutralised all voices of secessionism and political instability.
Without appeasement to militants and separatists, and while loudly speaking against “terrorism”, Azad became the first Chief Minister who got over a dozen SOG men, including then SSP of Ganderbal Hans Raj Parihar, booked and arrested for killing five innocent civilians in fake encounters as “foreign terrorists”. For years, no court granted bail to the accused. Finally, a catastrophe befell the Valley in June 2007.
While Pakistan, Hurriyat and the militants had been forgotten by the Kashmiris, the mainstream politicians triggered an explosion of regional and communal polarisation — between the Muslim and the Hindu, between Kashmir and Jammu — for the first time after 1947. Mufti and other PDP leaders warned Azad publicly that they would withdraw support and bring down his government if he did not cancel allotment of a piece of land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board that had been earmarked in compartment No: 63 of Sindh Forest for temporary use by the pilgrims. Paradoxically, the allotment had been recommended and facilitated by none other than the two PDP Ministers, namely Qazi Mohammad Afzal and Tariq Hamid Karra,
[To be continued….]